January’s reminders slowly fill the void left by the fading holiday season. Amid the color of holiday lights stuffed into cardboard boxes and stray Christmas tree needles surfacing in corners, stomachs now feel a bit empty and souls a little less filled after the rush of family and friends. We have to go back to work and back to school and back to life without lights blinking in the periphery.
But January is a reminder month. January is where the pattern for the year starts forming like footsteps in clay, and traction begins to take shape. Those reminders are important.
A small faux-leather book guards the corner of my desk. It’s the first thing I see when I open my office door every morning and the last thing I glance to when leaving. In 1899, Theodore Roosevelt’s nasally, well-bred voice boomed loud over folks in Chicago as he laid out what many refer to as his personal and political philosophy.
That day, he laid bare the doctrine of the Strenuous Life.
While 1899 was still infested with social problems of old and distinct inequality among the citizens hearing him speak that day, Mr. Roosevelt advocated for much more than a national cause or a political stand. Instead, he dictated steps to experiencing a life well-lived, the creation of an admirable life.
The essence of his speech urged Americans to be active within the boundaries of their own existence, the four corners that shape their lives from birth until death. He encouraged them to fight the urge to go passively through days and instead embrace the sweat and calloused hands that come from an active life.
Little nuggets of wisdom fall easily from the pages of his speech. Simple urgings that resonate as true today as they did in 1899 reverberate still throughout the souls of men and women. In one line, Roosevelt admonishes, “A mere life of ease is not in the end a very satisfactory life.” In another, “It is better to try great things, even at the risk of failure, than to know neither victory nor defeat.”
In the end, this asthmatic president who almost didn’t live through his toddler years presents a simple recipe for joining the grand parade of men and women who exhale their last breaths in satisfaction of how they lived. Simply put, he encourages us all to live a strenuous life. A life of action. A life of healthy endeavors. A life made whole by the absolute conviction that every day that dawns is a chance to improve.
Today, the ideal of the strenuous life rings stronger and truer than ever. The need to get outdoors, to engage in healthy exercise, to see the stranger on the street and relish the family relationship still resounds. The clarion call for responsible lucrative enterprise and engaging community needs rings clearly through the early days of 2018.
The lure of forward motion is still there; still pulling, tugging, cajoling us out of our comfort and safety and into the hurricane winds of chance. It’s all within reach.
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to be active. I’ve marched through the last half of my life with a smart and beautiful wife, five engaging children, and a career in education. I have had the opportunity to encounter the very best in humanity and some of the lowest snakes that slither throughout life’s path.
Our youth face myriad complexities original to their era, yet I remain optimistic that they can be the next greatest generation.
That little book on my desk is a January reminder that the pattern of the year is best formed when creativity and passion are coupled with discipline and determination. It’s a reminder that life is meant to be active in both thought and deed.
As a middle-aged man, I often see the world through the kaleidoscope of ’80s movies, hair bands, and phones connected to walls, but that vision is tempered by my daily interaction with kids. In the coming weeks, I’ll write about those nuggets of wisdom, the slow steps on a meandering path, the holy observations that come from noticing families in action and people with purpose.
Throughout the year, this column will pay homage to the strenuous life.
Steve Straessle, whose column appears every other Saturday, is the principal of Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys. You can reach him at [email protected]
Editorial on 01/13/2018